Last week was Dyslexia week. Shame I couldn’t get this post finished in time for it as there wasn’t much publicity. That is a pity because dyslexia affects a surprising number of people, and it is only now gaining recognition in New Zealand educational circles.
As a web accessibility issue dyslexia has a low profile, although the barriers are recognised and assistive technology is available. However many people in the web community still think that web accessibility is all about blindness and screen readers. Sure blind people face significant and continuing barriers to web site access. But other groups of disabled people do too, and often the barriers are quite different for them than for blind people.
But it is interesting to note that some of the accessibility issues for people with dyslexia are quite similar to those for people with low vision, including me. It seems that quite a lot of the things I hate about web sites are also not enjoyed by people who have dyslexia either.
Many of the problems they, and I, face with web sites revolve around the way information is presented on the screen. Funnily enough the dyslexia week site exhibits the same problems.
I will list just a few.
Unbroken text stretching right across your screen is a pain in the neck. As the eyes try to scan across, it is really difficult to follow on to the next line. If it goes off to the side and you have to scroll across, it makes it even worse! The point of vision gets lost in a morass of text. Text in a relatively narrow column is easier to read.
Right justified text is another pain where the words are spaced out so that both the left and the right sides of each column of text are straight lines. Unjustified text – like the text on this page – leaves a ragged edge down the right hand side.
For a dyslexic reader, justified text, with its uneven spaces between words, creates visual patterns of white space which are hard to ignore. They distract the reader, who loses the place.
Bright text on a white background is another problem for people with dyslexia, (less so for me if the text is strong and black.) Words can appear to move and blur. An off white background may help. Text on a patterned background is really unhelpful and difficult and distracting to read.
Dyslexic readers, like me, find moving images distracting and like the plain uncluttered nature of a type face like arial. We hate italics, and we love print of a decent size.
Like almost everyone else people with dyslexia like plain English – see the new Plain English Power web site.
It just shows that providing good web accessibility does not create barriers for others.